Language Learning Tips from a Wannabe Polyglot (Part 2)

In an increasingly globalised world, I think one of the best ways to gain a better understanding of a foregin culture is by learning its language and exploring the origins and customs associated with particular phrases. A lot of this article will contain some strategies I’ve picked up to make learning a new language less overwhelming, with some anecdotal examples to illustrate comparisons between different languages.

First and foremost, the best way to learn a language and put your classroom learning to the test is to put yourself in situations where you can’t pivot your way out of having to speak your target language. However, if you live in the middle of nowhere, travel is too extortionate for your student budget or Covid-19 has shut borders and made travel virtually impossible for you, why not capitalize on your digital resources through some of these suggestions?

  1. 1. Avoid Word for Word Translations

    Try to avoid translating word for word in your head. The goal is to get that automatic, subconscious feel of translation without having to frantically clutch at straws and look each word up. This can often lead to broken translations, anglicisms or communicating in a manner that a native would find odd. Exposing yourself to a range of media in your target language will enable you to pick up phrases the way they’re used by natives.

  2. 2. Curate Your Social Media Feed

    Follow celebrities and influencers on Instagram that speak your target language and accounts that promote learning that language to reorient your feed a bit. If you’re feeling brave, try switching your phone to your target language altogether.

  3. 3. Read.

    Cater your reading materials to your language proficiency. For instance, when I was on an advanced beginner/low intermediate stage of French, I used to read the Asterix comics and then pushed into easier novels.

    If you want to pick up more technical or current affairs-related language, try reading a paragraph from an article and note down important vocabulary/phrases. Make flashcards and keep revisiting them (I really like Quizlet because it’s digital). Perhaps even form your own sentences with these technical words for further familiarisation and  consolidating them within different contexts.

  4. 4. Watch TV Shows and Movies

    It’s ideal to find clips and shows that were originally filmed in your target language but opting for dubbed versions of films you’ve already seen is also a great way for you to observe the language in the way that it’s meant to be spoken.

    Try using subtitles (in your target language, not your native one, if you’re an intermediate) as a crutch for when you can’t keep up with the pace of the people speaking in the video.

    Note down vocab from news articles, clips, videos, shows, movies and podcasts in the context of a whole phrase and make flashcards. Phrases help you remember the meaning of words better.

    Remember – passively listening and not understanding large chunks won’t really benefit you. Make the effort to right stuff down, study the material, memorise the new vocab and REVISIT the medium until you can fully absorb it. Yabla is a pretty decent resource for this but some of the clips are old and kind of suck. Youtube and Spotify/Apple/Android podcasts are a lot more relevant.

  5. 5. Listen to the News and Podcasts

    Opt for content that actually interests you. You’re far more likely to remember things this way.  Pick Podcasts and that fit your level of fluency (there’s a really broad range out there – DM @hcuclondon for specific language suggestions).

  6. 6. Indulge in Good Music

    I think a lot of us can testify to the fact that it’s a lot easier to memorise lyrics coupled with a beat instead of large chunks of text. Make a playlist in your target language and look up the unfamiliar lyrics!

  7. 7. Do a little bit everyday

    Cramming really isn’t as effective or good for long-term retention as a little bit everyday. Try to allocate a certain amount of time (whether it’s as short as 5-15 minute or as long as 2 hours per day) and try to commit to that time everyday.

Remember, everyone learns at their own pace and that it isn’t feasible to absorb a whole language within a short span of time, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself! I hope you find these tips helpful – DM @hcuclondon for more!